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Summary:

Whether it is the threat of a Google-led wireless revolution that could cause an upheaval in its empire, or it is just a realization that networks need to be open and customers need choices — Verizon Wireless today announced that by the end of 2008 it […]

verizonlabs.gifWhether it is the threat of a Google-led wireless revolution that could cause an upheaval in its empire, or it is just a realization that networks need to be open and customers need choices — Verizon Wireless today announced that by the end of 2008 it will “provide customers the option to use, on its nationwide wireless network, wireless devices, software and applications not offered by the company.”

Further more, it wants developers to write applications to their platform. Seems like they took a page out of the Google playbook. Given Verizon’s track record of tight control of its network, including the user interface, this is a huge announcement: akin to Mikhail Gorbachev responding to President Ronald Reagen’s call to bring down the walls.

Verizon Wireless plans to have this new choice available to customers throughout the country by the end of 2008. In early 2008, the company will publish the technical standards the development community will need to design products to interface with the Verizon Wireless network. Any device that meets the minimum technical standard will be activated on the network. Devices will be tested and approved in a $20 million state-of-the-art testing lab which received an additional investment this year to gear up for the anticipated new demand. Any application the customer chooses will be allowed on these devices.

One minimum technical standard: the phones (or devices) have to be based on CDMA standards, not the more popular GSM standards. Further thoughts on this later, after the press conference. One thing is clear: Verizon and other incumbents are very, very worried about the siren call of “open networks” and are reacting. My inner sync also thinks that this could be a PR move that will help Verizon win the 700 MHz auction. Verizon can always point to the “openness” as a way to counter Google.

Verizon and other phone companies’ best friend, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, issued this statement, which kinda increases my level of skepticism, and belief that this is an “appeasement” announcement.

I was pleased to hear the announcement by Verizon Wireless…As I noted when we adopted open network rules for our upcoming spectrum auction, wireless customers should be able to use the wireless device of their choice and download whatever software they want onto it….As I said at the time, I had hoped that our auction rules would ultimately encourage all of the wireless industry to adopt a more open and consumer-friendly industry approach.

  1. Whither phone subsidies?

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  2. CDMA? Just when I was getting excited…

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  3. hah…. on the web conference. lots being said, but nothing be said really :-)

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  4. This is major. Of course, the devil’s in the details, but the fact that Verizon is making this announcement shows how much the US wireless world has changed in six months. It’s smart. Sales of mobile content is weak. Consumer interest is even weaker. The only way for mobile phones to compete with the web for our time and attention is to open up. Verizon was always the highest walled garden around. In a year or so, it could be the most open. Amazing.

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  5. The question to ask is; will full access to their network be available or will there be some sort of Access Tiering? This is the way that I think all of the telecoms will eventually implement the tiered internet. They can say their network will be ‘open’ but only their preferred devices/services will have access to their ‘fast lane’.

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  6. It makes sense, really. I’m not sure what the deal is with their ‘approval process’ though. No GSM operators seem to have this requirement. What exactly are they testing for that the FCC hasn’t done? I wonder if this will mean that more CDMA phones will come with SIM (or similar) chips so that they can be activated without carrier interaction. Baby steps, I suppose.

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  7. Nothing but great news. But I did think the carriers would not go so gently into this direction. I thought they’d fight it out with consumers until the FCC forced them to open. But the devil is always in the details. If, a few years from now, I can go into my local Apple Store, pick up an iPhone and am able to just put in a user name and password to get online with it (just like I do with my laptop on various WiFi networks), I’ll believe it. Let’s see if they truly open up. On the device side, it is easy enough for the device manufacturers to produce combo GSM/CDMA/WiFi devices; Verizon already has some similar ones for global roaming. The most exciting thing about this will be the unintended consequences: just imagine the proliferation of platforms, once the carrier isn’t playing gatekeeper (at least in the way they have in the past).

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  8. Until the company announces precise details, this is just a lofty announcement. Going from a company that cripples handsets, restricts data access, and transposes wretched UIs on perfectly good phones to an “open” company will be fun to watch. I have zero faith it can pull it off.

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  9. As a VZW subscriber with a GPS-crippled Blackberry 8830, I’m very interested to see if this actually happens. I’m pessimistic based on previous behavior, but you never know…

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  10. I’d like to see much more information on this “approval process”. It sounds like another facet of the wireless carriers’ long-standing (and bogus) argument supporting a locked-down network in the first place — that alien devices will somehow take down their network.

    How long will this approval take? What will it cost? Will it be open to anyone or just a subset of blessed vendors? What if I create a cellular device in my garage, will they approve that? If the answer is no, then what they’re describing shouldn’t be described as “open”.

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